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McKee Creek, a sub-basin of the Mattole River watershed located at the southernmost edge of Humboldt County’s temperate rainforest, runs parallel to Briceland-Thorn Road between Ettersburg and Thorn Junctions. Since 2003, it has suffered incredibly low flows. In recent years, this dire situation has been life- threatening for fish. Thousands of young fingerlings over-summering in the creek perish each summer when pools dry up. The scarcity of water for landowners who rely on the creek has also been a significant problem. “When we first moved here in 1999,” say Jani and Joseph Cook, McKee Creek landowners, “a neighbor told us that the creek used to be ‘thick’ with fish. On our map, the creek was designated with a solid blue line indicating year- round flow, but since we’ve been here, most of the creek running through our property has dried up every summer.” Much of this ongoing problem can be attributed to drought, compounded by past land-use practices which, by altering the ecosystem, have caused the watershed to drain more quickly resulting in reduced summertime streamflows. Human use has also been a contributing factor.Landowners on the McKee Creek mainstem have been working together with Sanctuary Forest (SFI) over the past fifteen years to restore resilience and abundance to their watershed. The McKee Creek Restoration Strategy (including Water Storage and Forbearance, Fish Habitat Restoration & Groundwater Recharge, and Land Conservation) is the result of these cooperative efforts.The objective of the Water Storage & Forbearance program is to reduce the impact of summertime human water use by creating sufficient water storage capacity for landowners along the creek. Late in the summerof 2018, thanks to funding from California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR), work to reduce human use impact on summer flows was nearing completion, and by the end of 2019, all landowners on the McKee Creek mainstem will have sufficient storage capacity to forbear from creek diversions during dry summer months.The objective of the Salmon Habitat Restoration and Groundwater Recharge program is to increase year-long streamflow and improve fish habitat by raising water levels, reconnecting inset floodplains, and deepening pools through the placement of log and boulder weirs and other large woody structures in the streambed. All weirs were engineered by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) hydrologist Conor Shea to ensure fish passage and structure stability. With a maximum of nine-inch jump, passage upstream is accessible even to juvenile fish. This work, funded by CDFW and the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), began last summer on private land in key portions of McKee Creek. According to Campbell Thompson, the Mattole Salmon Group (MSG) Headwaters Restoration Coordinator, and large equipment operator on this project—permitting this kind of work on private lands is a first for CDFW. He says that their decision to fund the project was influenced by the success of previous work in Baker Creek where SFI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) collaborated with NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, USFWS, Stillwater Sciences, and MSG to install log and boulder weirs to imitate natural processes. That project was funded by WCB, BLM, National Fish and Wildlife; Weeden, Bella Vista, Firedoll Foundations, and Patagonia.The McKee Creek instream project design called for the installation of log weirs in the creek running through the Cook’s property, and placement of other wood structures bolted to large boulders acting as ballast to keep the wood in place. The weirs were sealed with clay on the upstream side, each spanning the creek and driven into the bank for up to six feet. The construction team used large equipment to accomplish the work. “It can be alarming to see large equipment entering a stream area,” said team member Matt Knoedelseder. “The real challenge for the machine operator is to find safe access points through the woods, doing the least amount of damage to the area, yet creating enough space to complete the work. Cam [Campbell Thompson] is really good at what he does.” The Cooks agree. “It was daunting at first,” said Jani. But their trust in Sanctuary Forest kept them from wavering, she said. The Cooks said that when the workers were finished, the disturbed land looked like a park and will only get better from here. Without hesitation, they said they would do it all again.Each step of the way, before construction began in a new part of the creek, young fingerlings were removed by CDFW and relocated to an undisturbed reach where they would have the best chance of survival. The first weir was built at the upstream end of the Cook’s property where the streambed had begun to dry up. A week after its installation, water held back in that location resulted in connected pools all the way upstream to the confluence with Painter Creek. When the second and third weirs were finished, the water there was replenished by the water stored upstream. The team moved further downstream installing additional log and boulder weirs, and putting log habitat structures into the stream.“We were continually racing to stay ahead of the water,” says Knoedelseder. “Literally we’d get the last bolt in astructure, and the upstream water would come flowing over it.” This is remarkable given that just prior to project implementation, most of the creek on the Cook’s property was a series of dry stretches punctuated by small isolated pools. Two more weirs on the Cook’s property are scheduled for construction in the summer of 2019.Campbell Thompson expects that in the short term, the reconnection to inset floodplains and resulting wider channels created by this project will slow the water down and create low- velocity pools which make great winter fish-rearing habitat. In the long term, the summer flows should be more consistent downstream of the weirs, he says, and at the creek’s confluence with the Mattole River. For the fish, he says, “If the work functions as designed, we expect all the pools to stay full this coming summer. Fish rescue should be necessary only in the areas where we will be building additional weirs.” It’s hard to know for sure yet, but powerful rushing water and high flows this winter may have damaged or displaced some of those structures. If so, there will need to be some adaptive management work this coming summer. Time will tell.Matt Knoedelseder, who also participates in annual Mattole River salmon surveys, said that he loves working in the river during the summer on a project like this one, not yet knowing what impact their efforts will actually have, and then returning in winter to count the fish. That’s when he can see how the structures are holding up and see the fish hiding out in the structures, just as he had hoped they would. Four years from now, he says, the fingerlings that were moved last summer to construct the weirs in this project will be returning to McKee Creek from their journey to and from the ocean. The question is whether the work done here will allow McKee Creek to become a spawning stronghold. “Being there, hands on, to sustain the river,” he said, “is one of the proudest achievements of my life.”www.treesfoundation.orgReflecting on the Cooks involvement over the past year in the McKee Creek project, Joseph Cook said, “McKee Creek has always been like a part of our garden. Because project subcontractors did all the hard work, we have reaped what we didn’t sow. It feels good to have been part of something that has resulted in progress for life in the creek.” The Cooks say their overriding feeling is one of gratitude for all that Sanctuary Forest and its funders doto make this kind of work possible, and they look forward to having the work on their property serve as an educational opportunity for neighbors and other landowners. The work on the Cook’s property was not designed to be a stand- alone intervention, nor was it ever expected to “fix” the low summertime streamflows in McKee Creek all by itself. Several other projects, up- and downstream from last summer’s work, will be implemented by Sanctuary Forest and its partners in the near future. In February 2018, Sanctuary Forest received an award from the WCB Proposition 1 Streamflow Enhancement Program for the acquisition of 300 acres in the headwaters of McKee Creek (Phase 1 of the Van Arken Community Forest Project), and the implementation of a groundwater recharge project on the property. Work there will begin in 2020. This summer additional weirs will be installed in the creek running through another private landowner’s property, downstream from the Cook’s. The combined outcomes from all of these instream and groundwater recharge projects, and SFI’s Storage and Forbearance program should result in enhanced groundwater levels and summer streamflows necessary for juvenile salmon rearing habitat throughout McKee Creek. Greater drought-resistance for people should become a reality as well.From the beginning, collaboration has been central to the success of Sanctuary Forest’s McKee Creek Restoration Strategy—neighbors problem solving with neighbors; agencies and foundations partnering with our community; on-going sharing between communities throughout California and beyond where people who aspire to be good stewards are creatively and cooperatively engaged in the work. We express deep gratitude to our funders, CDFW, WCB, DWR; and to our partners—MSG, who collaborated in project design every step of the way and provided our construction crew, USFWS, who provided engineering consultation and plans for our rock and log weirs, and BLM, for providing the logs for our weirs.

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